Music and mayhem combine in the first issue of Murder Falcon from Skybound/Image comics. Drawing influence from the heavy metal scene and the history of demon fighter tales, Daniel Warren Johnson unleashes his creator-owned comic upon an unsuspecting world this week. But what can you expect? Is this the future of the genre, rising through the backrooms of dingy clubs and onwards to stadium glory, or a disappointing mess never to leave the single local pub where they get their only gig?
Let’s find buy a ticket and find out.
Jake is a washed out musician, down on his luck and lost in his own self-pity. He’s lost his wife and given up on his band. There are a number of people around him, looking out for him, desperately trying to give him a boost but none of it works. Jake is not a man that can be reached.
That is until he is attacked in his home by a hideous spider-like creature. He reaches in desperation for a weapon, grabbing the nearest thing to hand; the remains of his broken guitar. Instantly a flash of light and the sound of a heavy metal chord fills his apartment. In its wake enters Murder Falcon; a super pumped birdman with a cybernetic arm.
Things only get weirder from there.
This comic isn’t as crazy as it seems. The basic story has a simple Demon Hunter theme with a protagonist that suddenly finds out he has powers he didn’t know he had, or that he understands. From there it’s a tale of self-discovery and world saving. It’s not too far away from the concept of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
This first issue introduces not only the central two characters but also the link between them and something of the greater world in which they live. That is a lot of stories to cover but at no point does Murder Falcon become overloaded with exposition. Daniel Warren Johnson switches between panel sizes to differentiate between the larger than life, action moments and the more intimate parts of Jakes’ life. Jakes relationships with his ex-band members, his friends and his wife are told through a series of small panels, illustrating the emotional aspect of Jake’s world. Once the creatures and Murder Falcon turn up the pages are filled with gutter bursting large panels. The action takes over everything and is unashamedly brash and loud. These sequences are a metaphorical representation of a heavy metal concert.
The Heavy Metal attitude clearly influences this comic. It wears that attitude like a badge of honour sown onto a denim jacket for all to see. But, like all the best rock bands ever to grace a stage, there are subtleties and layers on offer. Massive monsters and ludicrous characters share page space with heartbreaking narrative and difficult soul-searching. Murder Falcon is an Iced Earth album in paper form.
The comic starts with a big, exciting introduction to the central characters, like Metallica walking on stage to the Ecstasy of Gold, before throwing the reader back in time for an Origin Story. Although this isn’t particularly ground-breaking storytelling, the whole aesthetic of the comic draws the reader in so that you barely notice the narrative-by-numbers approach in the setup. Johnson’s character, and monster, the design is outstanding with a series of grotesque but credible creatures; and then Murder Falcon himself who appears like a Terminator mixed with an Angry Bird. In the opening sequence, even his electric backgrounds reference Schwarzenegger’s outlandish cyborg character.
There is a visual energy to the artwork that hisses from the page like the feedback from a loud guitar. Each page gives the reader an immersive experience, surrounded by the spectacle and music of a heavy metal concert. The inks have a rough, urgency about them, giving the panels a dangerous and life-threatening feel, especially in the action sequences.
The colour work by Mike Spicer is as bold as the layouts but there are clear colour signifiers for the characters. The beasts, for example, are coated in reds and purples signifying the danger but also the natural element of the creatures. Both Jake and Murder Falcon wear yellow, linking them visually from the very beginning.
Matching the art style is Rus Wooton’s lettering. Wooton constantly shifts the size of the text and liberally uses bold lettering for forced emphasis. This sometimes helps display the characteristics of those speaking, such as Jake putting emphasis on his name despite it being clearly unimpressive, but it also adds a layer of humour to some of the panels. The off-panel speaker who cries “It’s going to eat a baby” does so with such urgency, as depicted by the boldness, but it’s placement in the panel with Jake, and the greater situation of the page, gives it a humorous edge. The combination of the emphasised speech in the same panel heightens the ridiculous over-egging of Jake’s own name and the dire situation playing out. It’s as if the character screamed “So what? We’re all going to die” at Jake. This is just one example of Wooton’s lettering owning a panel and breathing life into what, so easily, could be flat clichéd speech.
As a first issue, Murder Falcon is a success because it lets you know, from the very beginning, what kind of comic you are reading. It boldly throws itself out there, screaming “This is what we are!” and then lets you decide if you want to join the wild ride. Nobody buys Iron Maiden tickets and expects to sit down through the gig, tapping their foot; and the same is true here. Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride or don’t get on at all. This is one comic that obviously enjoys being brash and loud. And why not? The concept may seem ‘out there’ but when a story is told this well, who cares?
Enjoy the beautifully rendered visuals; enjoy the music inspired energy which flows throughout the pages; enjoy the narrative of a broken man rediscovering his potential; but above all, simply enjoy.
Darryll Robson is a Contributor to ComiConverse. He has a much underused Twitter account: @DarryllRobson, and his own website comiccutdown.com where he writes more about comics.